The desire for status and its profound negative impact

Have you ever had a working relationship with someone where you have a strong desire to be friendly but the responses you get never seem to support this and you can’t quite put your finger on why that is? Even worse, the other person appears to take any opportunity to ‘put you down’ or ‘put you in your place’. Often this is in subtle ways making it feel unreasonable for you to react negatively even though the feelings evoked are strongly negative. At other times, the put-down may be more dramatic or worse, more public.

What might be going on in such situations?

It’s highly likely that the person feels threatened by you in some way and responds by threatening you back. Attacking you being the best form of self-defence. Significantly, you do not realise the person feels threatened by you and all you perceive is threatening behaviour. As a result you feel threatened which may manifest itself as a fight or flight response.  You feel angry and upset or you feel really crap about yourself. These feelings can be very powerful and not only spoil your day at work but can linger for weeks, months or even years.

So what can you do about it?

First of all, it’s important to spot these situations and see them more objectively. The person is only human and their responses are indeed very human. Realise that it does not actually reflect on  you as such but is a reflection of them. If you can spot these situations as they arise, you can perceive them for what they are and this will take the heat out of the emotion and make your fight or flight response much smaller. Note that it’s unrealistic to expect to feel no fight or flight response at all, you are still human too, not Vulcan.

With practice, you can begin to show empathy and compassion rather than anger or hurt.

This is not to say you should put up with threatening behaviour (see this HWL article on how to be assertive rather than aggressive or passive). However, once you see the behaviour for what it is you can respond more appropriately and find your own way to respond to the individual.

Does this resonate with you?

Does this apply to any people you interact with at work?

Have you insights and strategies you can share?

You have a bad boss? What did you expect?

Do you have a bad boss? Well if so you are not alone. In fact it is often quoted as being the number one source of unhappiness at work.

That may come as no surprise. Even if you are happy with your boss, you probably have friends or family that are not happy with theirs.

What may come as a surprise is if someone says, “Well, what did you expect?”. Especially if that’s here on happy work life?

Let’s elaborate on that rhetorical question:

  • When you signed your contract of employment, was there a clause in it that said you would have a “good boss” that you would be happy with?
  • At interviews, did you ask about the skills and behaviour of the boss for the role you were applying for?
  • Is there a law of the universe that states that whatever job you have you will be guaranteed to have a good boss?

Did you answer the questions? I am betting that your answers to some if not all of these are “no”.

Which leads back to the original question, “Well, what did you expect?”

The fact is that there are no guarantees that just because someone is the boss of someone else that they will:

  1. want to be a good boss
  2. have the skills to be a good boss
  3. care about whether the people they manage are happy or not

Many managers fall under category 2.  After all, it’s not uncommon to be promoted into a first managerial post with very little people management training if any at all.

So if you feel that you are being treated unfairly by your boss, that may well be, but consider for a moment if there was ever any guarantee that things would have been any different?  Life can be unfair. That is an indisputable fact of life. You cannot change that.

However, what you can positively change is:

  1. your expectations of your boss’s behaviour, skills, attitudes, or all of these
  2. how you perceive your boss, e.g. are they trying their best but simply out of their depth with people management?
  3. how you respond and feel in relation to your boss’ behaviour

I hope you find a positive message in this and not a defeatist one. You may not be able to change your boss or their behaviour but there is more power in your hands, or rather your head, than you may realise.

You will find many more tips and advice on dealing with, shall we say, under-performing bosses,  on happy work life in the future.

Never confuse Motion with Action

Quote of the day:

“Never confuse Motion with Action.”

― Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

Research and common sense tell us that happiness stems from meaningful work not just ‘busy work’, that is just being busy without achieving very much.  Did you ever have a day full of meetings and at the end of the day feel like nothing useful or of value had come from it?

Our time and our energy are precious.  Spend both wisely.

Become good at respectfully saying “no” if asked or invited to do something not worth actually doing. Chances are you will be doing someone else a great service as well as yourself.

How much of your typical work day is Motion and not Action?


Two ears and one mouth

Quote of the day:

“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”

― Epictetus, AD 55–135

It’s also worth considering:

When we listen:

  • we learn
  • we expand our horisons
  • we grow
  • we enhance our relationships (people almost without exception like to be listened to)
  • we “update our mental map”

A good rule of thumbs is:

Aim to be interested and interesting in equal measure.





It’s not you, it’s them (unless it is you) – beware the ‘assholes’

In the workplace some people exhibit certain character traits, OK let’s call them ‘assholes’ (Robert Sutton’s definition) and will conspire to make others feel small, incompetent or just bad about themselves.

Well, here’s the thing. It’s not you, it’s them and don’t you forget it!

Unless of course you are the Asshole in which case please stop reading this and go and read the Epilogue (“On Being the Asshole Guy”) to Robert Sutton’s classic book.

OK still reading then I assume you are not an ‘asshole’ :)

The nature of the human condition, unless you have the most
bullet-proof constitution and great mental and emotional resilience, is that
such behaviour will hurt and leave you feeling wounded and most likely angry as well.

You need to consider these ‘events’ as being separate from you and not necessarily under your control. You didn’t create the ‘asshole’ did you? You should realise that you have a choice of how you perceive the event and react. What’s more, you need to examine your underlying beliefs in relation to such incidents.

Your beliefs:

  • Try to view the situation objectively and see that you have not done anything wrong and it is the other person’s behaviour that is totally unreasonable.
  • If they are pouncing on some mistake you made then remember that everyone makes mistakes and it’s unprofessional and malicious to try and put you down and make a big deal out of it.
  • Believe in yourself and know that no matter what this person says or  how they behave, this does not in anyway change who you are and your rights as a human being; you deserve respect and in the workplace are entitled to be treated in a professional manner.

Your response:

  • One option is to not respond, to totally ignore them. The perpetrator is most likely wanting a reaction. If you hide your feelings and show no reaction then you will be denying them the pleasure. Provoking a reaction is what they want and will only encourage them to keep doing it. Not responding does not mean doing nothing, rather, carry on as if it did not happen. Keep your chin up. Water off a duck’s back. Rise above it.
  • Avoid getting defensive. They may have ‘pushed a button’ in the sense that they have sensed something you may be insecure about. A natural instinct is to get defensive which gives them the impression that they have you on the ropes which may spur them on even further. If you cannot ignore them completely, try not to respond defensively. State a fact “That’s simply not true.” and move swiftly on.
  • Avoid retaliation. Retaliation may not be advisable as this can make the situation worse and how do you know you are going to ‘win’? Assholes have typically had lots of practice, they may have been doing it most of their lives, and most likely had more practice than you have had at confronting assholes!

Such responses can be difficult especially when your emotions are riding high but combined with the healthy beliefs listed above and with practice, it will become easier and begin to provoke a response that is in your control and more to your benefit not theirs! Above all, believe in yourself!

Book: “The No Asshole Rule” by Robert Sutton

See this Happy Work Life post.

The joy of assertiveness – respecting your rights and those of other people too

The notion of being assertive is often covered as part of a personal or management training course. The idea being that being more assertive can lead to being more effective. This is undoubtedly true. In this article, we explore how being assertive can lead to a happier and more fulfilled work life.

Let’s examine the definition, here taken from our good friend Wikipedia:

Assertiveness is the quality of being self-assured and confident without being aggressive.

It goes on to say, and this is the part that interests us most:

…this affirms the person’s rights or point of view without either aggressively threatening the rights of another (assuming a position of dominance) or submissively permitting another to ignore or deny one’s rights or point of view”

Let’s separate out the three different approaches:

  1. Passive = letting other people not respect your rights
  2. Aggressive = not respecting the rights of others
  3. Assertive = respecting your rights and the other person’s too

Any reasonable and well balanced individual would agree that 1 and 2 are bad! Being assertive is clearly the way to go. However, walking the walk is not as easy as understanding or realising this to be true.

Consider the following common workplace scenarios. Do you recognise any of them?

  1. Your boss books a regular 1-2-1 with you, during your lunch hour!
  2. Your boss turns up late for your a 1-2-1 or even misses it all together because they are too busy.
  3. Your boss turns up for your 1-2-1 and only talks about what they want.
  4. Your boss delegates something to you and then proceeds to wade in and start doing it for you.
  5. A colleague starts to do an aspect of your job without asking.
  6. A colleague cuts you out of the loop on an important communication thus undermining your ability to do your job.

Anything sound familiar?

In all of these situations, your response to the event is really important. You can see where this is headed, right? In all of the above situations, the other person is being aggressive as they are not respecting your rights.  Refer again to the above definitions. If you let them get away with it then you are behaving passively.

However, what you should not do is react aggressively. Even if that made you feel better, it’s only going to make a bad situation worse.

Try to spot such situations and recognise aggressive behaviour in others and just as importantly, any passive response on your part. Aim to be assertive. You can think about such situations in advance or reflect on past experiences and mentally and emotionally prepare yourself for a ‘next time’.

Being assertive should not be confused with being aggressive. You can be 100% assertive while remaining calm and polite. Even compassionate. Your boss or colleague may not even be aware that they are being aggressive, it may be quite unintentional or just a result of being overworked or unskilled in such scenarios. If you act assertively you are most likely doing the other person a huge favour as well as yourself. It’s very likely that they are not singling you out with this behaviour and behaving this way with other people too.

So for example, if your boss misses a 1-2-1, don’t simply let it pass by or get angry. Speak to them or even email them and say “I appreciate you are very busy at the moment but I really value our 1-2-1s and it’s important to me that we do them whenever we can. Could we schedule in this 1-2-1 again this week? That would be really appreciated. Thanks!”

In this scenario you feel a lot better about yourself, you will have made it clear to your boss that 1-2-1s are important and not just to you but probably to everyone else on the team as well.

Go ahead and assert yourself :)

“The No Asshole Rule” by Robert Sutton (Book)

The ‘asshole’ character trait

Here on Happy Work Life we believe in compassion and certainly do not believe in character assassination. We believe in sticking to the truth and giving people the benefit of the doubt. The moniker “asshole” can be considered as referring to a character trait. So it’s not the whole person but just one aspect of their personality and this may be fleeting or manifest itself more frequently. There’s also the question of was it intentional or just social ineptitude?  All of us have the potential to behave like an ‘asshole’ from time to time.

Book: “The No Asshole Rule” by Robert Sutton

In Robert Sutton’s classic book, he defines two criteria that test for the presence of an ‘asshole’:

  1. After encountering the person, do people feel oppressed, humiliated or otherwise worse about themselves?
  2. Does the person target people who are less powerful than him/her?

I would actually say 1 can be enough but passing tests 1 & 2 often go hand in hand are are certainly not rare, shall we say. Bullies are often cowardly as well.

Their unpleasant behaviours were catalogued by Sutton as The Dirty Dozen:

  1. Insults
  2. Violation of personal space
  3. Unsolicited touching
  4. Threats
  5. Sarcasm
  6. Flames
  7. Humiliation
  8. Shaming
  9. Interruption
  10. Backbiting
  11. Glaring
  12. Snubbing